This is the audio recording of the second reading of week two of Start, entitled Emotional Health and the Maturity to Love.
“Becoming whole requires a conscious commitment to becoming the healing presence of God in a wounded and wounding world.”
We gauge our spiritual maturity (and that of others) in various ways. The last reading noted that we tend to associate maturity with knowledge and activity. But are these the best measures of maturity? Love, as we learned, is one of the truest measures of our maturity. The Apostles were constantly working to remind the body of Christ about this. In Philippians 1:9, Paul wrote, “And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more.” The tricky thing is that we can’t give what we have not received.
To love others well, we must learn how to receive love.
That last sentence got its own paragraph because it’s that important. In fact, we’re going to repeat it: To love others well, we have to learn how to receive love ourselves.
The Apostle Paul gives us a glimpse into how he is deeply motivated by the love he receives from the Father, In 2 Corinthians 5:14-15, he writes, “For Christ’s love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died. And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again.” The Apostle John reminds us, “We love because He first loved us.” (1 John 4:19) We were made to regularly return to the truth that God loves us. When we don’t live in light of God’s love for us, we’ll either shy away from Him out of fear or exhaust ourselves trying to win His approval. When we let the truth of God’s love move freely into our heads and hearts, we’ll be supernaturally empowered to love others. This is easy to articulate, but it can be challenging to live out.
Our ability to receive love from God and each other is closely connected to our emotional health. In his book Emotionally Healthy Discipleship, Pete Scazzero explains, “Emotional health and spiritual maturity are inseparable. It is impossible to be spiritually mature while remaining emotionally immature.”
Love, emotional maturity, and spiritual maturity all fit together. Love is the measure of spiritual maturity, and our emotional maturity enables us to love others. Our emotional health is so important because it impacts our relationships in all sorts of ways. Franciscan priest Richard Rohr says, “We don’t see things as they are, we see things as we are.” This is arguably the truest when it comes to our relationships. Our emotional health allows us to build healthy relationships, whereas our emotional dysfunction can sabotage those efforts.
It’s important to note that many outside factors influence our emotional and relational health. Throughout our lives, we experience relationships and form emotional bonds. The health of these bonds—particularly in childhood—creates patterns for our future relationships. We learn to practice traits like love, acceptance, and forgiveness in healthy environments. In less healthy spaces, we are subtly (or not so subtly!) trained in qualities like passive aggressiveness, judgment, and harshness. Once again, these early experiences create patterns, and these patterns exist whether we realize it or not. Scazzero says, “People never seem to notice how they remain imprisoned, especially in unbiblical ways of relating to themselves and others.”
In Emotionally Healthy Discipleship, Scazzero cites a concept from theologian Martin Buber that can help us become more emotionally healthy in our relationships. Buber says there are two kinds of relationships: I-It and I-Thou. When we relate to a person as an object or a means to an end, we treat them as an “It.” When we relate to people as sacred or holy, we treat them as a “Thou.” If we, in our past, were mostly treated as an “It,” then that will likely be our default way of treating others. The same connection exists if we were treated as a “Thou.” Regardless of our past, we must continually surrender ourselves to the Lord so He can help us see others through His eyes. When we do that, we’ll see others as “Thous” and not “Its.” Practically, this means we will be:
- Attentive and comfortable listening (because God is attentive and listens to us!)
- A person who sees others as unique and purposeful
- Non-judgmental and able to accept the imperfections of others
- Curious, able to dialogue and explore the lives of other people (not ethnocentric or self-centered)
- Vulnerable, willing to offer more of ourselves to others
- Open, willing to learn and change
All these different concepts are connected. When we are emotionally healthy, we can see others as sacred children of God without having our view distorted by our dysfunction. This, in turn, allows us to put love into action by demonstrating the above qualities, which puts us on the path to relational and spiritual maturity.
Relating to others with love fueled by our emotional and spiritual health is vital to healthy relationships. There are numerous ways we can evaluate our health in these areas, but here are a few questions that we can use in that evaluation:
- Am I fully present with others, or am I distracted? We are constantly darting from activity to activity, and this easily prevents us from being fully present with people.
- Am I loving or judging? How we feel about ourselves as children of God profoundly effects how we engage with others. If we find ourselves being more judgmental, we will benefit from asking God to help us understand what’s going on in our hearts that provokes that.
- Am I open or resistant to changing? If we find ourselves closed off and anxious, this is likely a signal that something deep in our hearts needs to be addressed.
- Can I see the rich blessings that come from being a person who loves out of deep emotional and spiritual wells and not out of duty or expectation?
These questions will help us examine hearts so that we can love others in life-giving and formative ways.
As we experience the Father’s love in specific ways, we can give the type of love we’ve received. When we grow in our ability to understand how our emotional health affects our ability to love, it transforms our relationships and how we treat one another. Both of these things help us better understand that love is our measure of Christian maturity.
- How good are you at articulating your needs and then receiving love and help from others? What makes this easy or difficult for you?
- What are some ways you see God demonstrating His love toward you?
- Take some time to think through or journal your answers to the four questions at the end of the reading. Try not to rush this activity if at all possible. What common themes emerge?